Blessed with such variety it could merit a lifetime of holidays, France is one of those destinations that really does have it all.
From the snow-capped peak of Europe's highest mountain to the sparkling shores of the Mediterranean coast, this is a country of castles and palaces, history and art, city and country. As well as feasting your eyes on all that epic scenery, treat your tastebuds to their own adventure as you sample the truly fabulous food and wine of France. Create your ideal mix of city sights and natural splendour with a tailor-made holiday crafted to your precise requirements by our local experts based in France.
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Best things to do in France
There are thousands of fantastic experiences to be had in this historic European gem of a country. Here are just a few of the things that are well known to be the best things to do in France (though our local partners are full of exciting ideas so don't forget to ask them!)
"Paris is always a good idea"
Synonymous with glamour and gastronomy, Paris lives up to its reputation as the most stylish European capital. A heady mix of history, art and engaging street life ensures that your time in Paris is jam packed with culture. Each neighbourhood has its own distinct character, best sampled when you tour the markets, museums and eateries - the inside knowledge of our local experts will ensure you get the most from your Parisian experience.
The Loire: Valley of Kings
The broad and beautiful river Loire threads westwards through central France, passing lively towns, a clutch of elegant chateaux and swathes of fertile land renowned for the production of stone fruit, fine wines and delicious goat's cheese. It's easy to see why medieval royalty chose this region for their leisure pursuits, and thanks to them there is a palpable sense of history and regal grandeur.
Explore the Côte d'Azur
The famous southern French light so beloved of artists is at its fabulous best when glittering off the surface of the Mediterranean Sea. The glitzy resorts of the French Riviera are home to elegant boutiques, great restaurants and pretty harbours bustling with sleek boats. Inland, feast your senses on the colours and scents of the landscape, the stunning hill villages and the eclectic artistic heritage of this enchanting corner of the Mediterranean.
Indulge in gastronomic delights
No trip to France is complete without delving headlong into its culinary delights. Whichever region you choose for your French adventure, you are sure to find delectable local specialities served with pride and passion. The cuisine of France is fiercely regional and hugely varied, from the rich dishes of the Dordogne, Loire and Alps to the vegetable-rich food of the south and the seafood of the northwest.
Find paradise in Provence
The air in Provence is scented with the unique mix of aromatic plants that thrive here under the warm southern sun. This is largely a rural region with areas of wild upland punctuated by the picturesque towns and villages that Provence is famous for. Historic cities such as Avignon, Arles and Aix captivate visitors with their effortless blend of buzzing squares and historic buildings, some of which date back to Roman times.
Exquisite stone villages huddle above the riverbank like something out of a fairytale, and the rugged landscape creates a stunning backdrop for castles and fortified hill towns. Browse the markets in venerable old towns such as Sarlat, stalls groaning with the abundant local produce. Pull up a chair at a traditional bistro to sample some of the richest cuisine in France, then head for a tour of some of the most photogenic villages in the country or venture underground to see the incredible cave art of Lascaux.
Lesser known things to do in France
While there are many well-known things to do in France, what about the slightly lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative adventure.
Lakes and Mountains
In the south-east of France the dramatic peaks of the Alps fringe the borders with Switzerland and Italy. As well as fabulous hiking among flower strewn meadows, you can soak up some wonderful scenery and alpine culture in pretty mountain towns such as Annecy. This jewel of the French Alps can't fail to charm with its colourful streets of ancient houses and numerous waterways. Cruise the lake and admire the views or enjoy the hearty mountain cuisine.
From the pearly cliffs flanking the beach at the pretty resort of Etretat to the half timbered old farmhouses dotted around the countryside, Normandy has plenty of charm. Lose yourself in a daydream made real at Monet's garden in Givenchy before getting to know the achingly photogenic harbour of Honfleur. Learn about the history and agony of D-Day at the landing beaches near Caen, and find out more about life a millennia ago when you study the famous Bayeux Tapestry up close.
Wine lovers' tours
You can't go far in France without stumbling upon a field of vines, but among the enormous number of winemaking regions, there are some whose reputation precedes them. Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are three of the most famous, and all merit a visit for their picturesque landscapes, historic wineries and opportunities for wine tasting. Lesser known wine growing areas with delightful scenery and charming towns include the Rhone valley, Alsace and the Loire valley.
Conjure up an image of France and chances are it will look something like Alsace. Picture postcard half timbered houses lean against each other along cobbled streets, window boxes overflowing with flowers. Cheerful cafés adorn the handsome town square with a fountain in the middle. Gourmet shops, chic boutiques and inviting restaurants compete for your attention. The surrounding countryside of rolling hills is striped with vines which produce delicious local wine. That's Alsace in a nutshell.
The best time to go to France
France is a year round destination with something to offer in every season. The seasons are as follows: Spring (March - May); Summer (June - August); Autumn (September - November); Winter (December - February).
Christmas and New Year can be busy, but the magical appeal of Paris, Lyon or Strasbourg at Christmastime is worth it. The Alps is another region which sparkles in winter, and snowsports facilities are among the best in Europe, with resorts to suit all tastes.
Spring is an excellent time to tour most regions of France, with lower footfall and shoulder season prices adding to the appeal of warmer weather and spring flowers. The south of France is particularly lovely in spring and can be warm enough for beach trips, though the sea is still chilly at this time of year. Touring northern attractions such as Paris, Brittany and Normandy in spring is perfectly feasible, though the climate here is often changeable and you are likely to encounter some rainy days.
As the summer arrives in June the tourism industry kicks into gear, and by mid-July the major destinations for visitors are busy, remaining at their liveliest until late August. The weather stays balmy in the south well into September, and this can be a super time to explore as seas are warm, shoulder season rates return and fresh produce is abundant.
Spring and Autumn are overall great times to plan for city-based holidays, especially as some cities are largely empty of locals for much of July and August as residents head to the mountains or the coast. To see the country at its festive best, major events such as Bastille Day (14 July), Christmas and Easter are perfect, though advance planning is advisable.
Many other regional and local festivals take place through the year - your local experts can advise you further depending on your itinerary and dates.
What to read before you go to France
'Bonjour tristesse' by Francoise Sagan
An instant classic written by a teenager, this novella depicts the carefree, privileged summer holiday of the teenage protagonist, Cecile. Conjuring perfectly the colour and mood of the French Riviera in the 50's, the blissful lifestyle is interrupted by the arrival of an unwelcome presence in Cecile's charmed existence.
'Le Ventre de Paris' by Emile Zola
'The belly of Paris' is a sumptuous study of Les Halles produce market in the Paris of the late 19th century, weaving personal rivalries and socio-economic commentary into the graphic descriptions of the huge slabs of meat and the towering displays of fruit and vegetables. An engaging observation of the significance of food in the French capital.
'Chocolat' by Joanne Harris
A deliciously sensuous story which paints an evocative picture of French village life. Sleepy Lansquenet-Sous-Tannes is challenged by the arrival of newcomer Vianne and her curious daughter Anouk who provoke strong feelings among the residents. Like the chocolate in Vianne's shop, this is a tale by turns sweet, mild, dark and bitter, but always insightful and intriguing too. Read with some fine chocolate to hand!
Interesting facts about France
France is an ancient and fascinating country. Do you know any of these interesting facts about it?
- In 1830, King Louis XIX began his reign when his father abdicated the throne, but 20 minutes later he also abdicated, making his the shortest reign in history.
- The per capita average annual consumption of snails in France is 500.
- France’s nickname is l’hexagone due to the approximate shape of its territory, which stretches across 547,557 square kilometres, making it the largest nation by area in the EU.
- The role of food and communal dining in France has such significance that the national cuisine has been awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO for its importance to the 'intangible cultural heritage of humanity’. It is considered ‘a social custom aimed at celebrating the most important moments in the lives of individuals and groups’.
- France is the world's most popular tourist destination. Around 90 million tourists visit every year, approximately ten percent of the global total.
- 96% of all our customers would recommend us to a friend
- The TravelLocal community is 18,000 strong
- We've hosted travellers from over 34 countries worldwide
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Interview with our local partner in France
From picture postcard mountain backdrops to cultural traditions, and a whole lot of gastronomic delights in between, we caught up with Penny, one of our local partners in France to discover just what makes the Pyrenees so special (and why you won’t find knowledge like hers in the guidebooks).
Do you already have an idea of what your dream holiday in France entails? Whether you're ready to book or would like your ideas to be fined-tuned into something more, send an enquiry and our trusted local experts will design your perfect tailor-made holiday.